Google releases location data to show if coronavirus lockdowns working in 131 countries

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Alphabet Inc’s Google on Thursday published reports for 131 countries showing whether visits to shops, parks and workplaces dropped in March, when many governments issued stay-at-home orders to rein in the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Google’s analysis of location data from billions of users’ phones is the largest public dataset available to help health authorities assess if people are abiding with shelter-in-place and similar orders issued across the world.

Its reports show charts that compare traffic from Feb. 16 to March 29 at subway, train and bus stations, grocery stores and other broad categories of places with a five-week period earlier this year.

Unsurprisingly, places like restaurants, cafes, shopping centres, museums, libraries, and movie theatres took the biggest hit in recent weeks in Malta.

According to Google’s data, visits to these places decreasing by a whopping 76 per cent when compared to an average day during the first five weeks of the year.

Mobility trends for public transport hubs, such as bus stations, have also seen some drastic changes, going down by over half – 57 per cent – when compared to the previous weeks.

Similarly, parks, beaches, piazzas and other public places have also become less popular. Google reported a 45 per cent decrease in visits to these places.

In Italy, one of the countries hardest hit by the virus, visits to retail and recreation locations, including restaurants and movie theaters, plunged 94% while visits to workplaces slid 63%. Reflecting the severity of the crisis there, grocery and pharmacy visits in Italy dropped 85% and park visits were down by 90%.

The data also underscore some challenges authorities have faced in keeping people apart. Grocery store visits surged in Singapore, the United Kingdom and elsewhere as travel restrictions were set to go into place. Visits to parks spiked in March in some San Francisco Bay Area counties, forcing them to later put the sites off limits.

Facebook Inc, which like Google has billions of users, has shared location data with non-governmental researchers that are producing similar reports for authorities in several countries. But the social media giant has not published any findings.

Infectious disease specialists have said analyzing travel across groups by age, income and other demographics could help shape public service announcements.

Read more via Reuters/TOM

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